Necessary Lies tells the story of the discovery of secrets and lies that stitch together empires and individual lives.

What are the lies we tell ourselves and others that get us through our lives? In the summer of 1981 Anna is suddenly offered the opportunity to study English at McGill University in Montreal. She jumps at the chance, leaving behind her job, her husband, and her country – Poland. She meets William, a music professor, and falls in love. Back home, martial law is declared. After almost ten years of marriage, William dies suddenly of a heart attack, and Anna is left to pick up the pieces. In the midst of grieving, she discovers more pieces than expected: for the length of their lives together, William carried on a long-distance affair with a woman journalist in Germany.

In search of truth, Anna returns to a dramatically changed Europe, where Communism has fallen, the Berlin Wall has been torn down, and where, once again, history will have to be rewritten. Probing the depths of betrayal and forgiveness, she confronts her own past and the motives that drove her away from Poland; she sees herself through the eyes of her mother, her ex-husband, and most importantly, William’s German lover, Ursula.


  • Winner, in Canada First Novel Prize 2000


It's not easy for a fiction writer to keep up with history when it's this big, but Stachniak and her characters do precisely that - as their own secrets and lies and hard-worn resilience parallel the extraordinary events happening around them. Necessary Lies is a brave and ambitious novel and a worthy winner.

- Joel Yanofsky

...the book that satisfied my three fictive R's: real people, real places, real emotions.

- Carmine Starnino

Offering a wealth of appealing sensory detail with what Clark Blaise once termed "authorial generosity" (I saw the streets of the cities, the shape and colour of people's clothes, tasted the food), the novel portrays the lives of Central European characters as journeys of survival in an age of tribal atrocities, whether those atrocities were cloaked in Nazism, Communism, or national vengeance.

- Julie Keith

Necessary Lies serves to remind where we are by reminding where many of us have come from.

- Olga Stein, Editor

[Stachniak's] human comedy is the oldest and best sort. Woven through the inevitable sadness is wonder at the revelation of human complexity and resilience.

- Jim Bartley

Themes of personal betrayal, collective denial and historically divided identities initially drive this story. Stachniak's world is convincing and carefully wrought . .. Necessary Lies satisfies most with the expressive fluidity of its prose, and its sharp portrait of a woman grappling with a bitter legacy.

- Jim Bartley